During my career, I’ve come across many small contracting companies, some with major environmental, health, and safety compliance obligations and risks. They answered to all of the regulatory agencies, including Health & Safety Executive & Environmental Agency.
Small business owners have very limited time and resources, they found it nearly impossible to keep up with their long list of complicated and seemingly ever-changing rules and regulations.
They really struggled and made just about all of the mistakes a small businesses can make while trying to manage HSE compliance.
But I soon learned it wasn’t just those I came across. During that time and afterwards, I learned about many other small companies making the very same mistakes they made.
This combined experience led me to devote my career to helping small companies manage their safety compliance and founding my company, Salus Services. These are the top five HSE compliance mistakes I’ve seen small business owners make.
1. Dual-Tasking a Staff Manager with HSE Compliance
This is by far the most common, and potentially damaging mistake that small businesses make when trying to manage their HSE compliance obligations.
Here’s how it normally unfolds. One day, the company realises that they don’t have a safety, or maybe an environmental, program and something needs to be done about it. Maybe a high value customer or insurance company asked for it, they had a near miss or a serious injury, or got inspected by HSE. Whatever the case, the company decides it’s time to build a safety program but is very quickly confronted with a big question: “who’s going to do it?”
Despite all of the more viable and logical options, such as hiring a consultant or an experienced HSE professional, business owners or senior management often decide to take the path of least resistance, which is to task one of their staff managers with the responsibility. Most often it’s the Human Resources Manager, but it could be Quality, Operations, or even Maintenance.
Whatever the case, that poor soul gets the nod and is now expected to magically make it all happen – on top of their long list of other responsibilities.
I’m not pointing fingers because the exact same mistake has been made more than once! Looking back, it was very odd how easily they convinced themselves that that was the solution, but they eventually learned how wrong they were and learned it the hard way.
Here’s why this “strategy” almost never works:
- Health, safety and environmental regulations are numerous, often changing, complex, difficult to understand, and even tougher to comply with, even for experts. If you don’t believe me, just log onto one of their websites and start reading. While doing so, imagine trying to apply what you’ve read to your own company. Successfully implementing and managing these regulations takes years of experience and knowledge and it’s totally unrealistic to expect someone with little or no experience to get it done.
- As if that problem isn’t daunting enough, a typical staff manager’s primary role often contributes directly to the company’s bottom line and, therefore, requires the majority of their time and attention (especially if they want to keep their job!) This leaves little, if any, time for managing compliance issues.
Add these two problems together, and it’s pretty easy to see how this strategy is nearly always doomed to failure. Yet small companies continue to make it over and over and over again.
I’ll add one final point. When a business owner or manage makes this decision (i.e. mistake), they almost always believe that compliance is actually being managed, not realising any of these problems. It’s often compounded by the fact that the staff manager is afraid to say anything for fear of losing their job. Then one day something bad happens, like a failed HSE inspection or a serious injury.
Only then does the major error finally come to light. But by then it’s too late, leaving the decision makers to wonder what happened.
2. Outsourcing HSE Compliance to your Insurer or Bank
This is yet another mistake that is made. Many small companies are lured into a false sense of security when their Insurer Agent or Relationship Manager shows up for their annual meeting and shows them their wonderful “safety resources” web-portal, loaded with all kinds of generic safety plans, resources, and training videos.
The experience often gives the company the false impression that this somehow adds up to managing their HSE compliance requirements.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. And here’s why: Insurance companies and banks are not mandated to manage their policy holder’s HSE compliance.
3. Buying or Downloading a Generic Safety Manual
When Companies try to build a health and safety program for themselves, they start researching all of the requirements, are quickly overwhelmed and confused, and then soon came to the conclusion that the best way to proceed was to order a health and safety manual online.
“Why re-invent the wheel?” they think. “I’ll just order a pre-built HSE compliance manual and will be all set!”
It doesn’t take long before they put it on the shelf and forgot about it. I’ve seen many other small companies do the same, not realising all of these requirements:
Health and safety legislation mandates that impacted employers assess their operations to identify all of the health and safety hazards that exist in their work environment, and then develop a company-specific health and safety policy to include all applicable health and safety legislation to address and control each of the identified health and safety hazards. Generic safety manuals almost always contain legislation and standards that have no applicability to any given company. This not only means that they can’t meet this requirement, but also means the company is agreeing to manage all of the additional legislation and standards that don’t even apply to them.
Just having a health and safety policy / manual doesn’t meet health and safety legislation. Health and safety legislation mandates that employers actually implement and manage all of the aspects included in the standards.
This includes things like conducting routine inspections, developing and delivering employee training, conducting exposure testing, and creating company-specific procedures. Rather than meeting all of these requirements, many companies make the mistake of buying a generic safety manual and then putting it on the shelf, never getting around to actually implementing and managing these extensive compliance components.
4. Using Generic Online Training and Toolbox Talks to Manage Safety Training Requirements
It’s very common for small companies to subscribe to an online safety training portal that gives them access to a wide range of generic safety training modules. Some of these modules address specific HSE issues, but many do not.
Many also use weekly, monthly, or less frequent toolbox talks, often downloaded from the internet. These normally last 5-15 minutes and are delivered by a supervisor or manager (who often doesn’t really understand the relevant HSE issues).
Here’s why this training strategy doesn’t work:
In addition to requiring customised health and safety policies, health and safety legislation also mandates that employers develop and deliver customised training programs to address the specific health and safety hazards that exist at the company. Generic safety training, such as the ones found online, can only cover the technical basics but fail to address the company-specific aspects. In other words, generic training really only meets about half of their health and safety requirements.
Employers should only develop and deliver the H&S training standards that apply to their company-specific hazards. Companies who subscribe to generic training resources rarely (if ever) assess this requirement and make the additional mistake of offering non-applicable training or fail to deliver training that is actually required.
Toolbox talks are a great tool for keeping health and safety top of mind but fails to meet best practice requirement that training includes all technical standard content.
Another related mistake I made and routinely see is delivering training by having employees read safety procedures on their own and then having then sign off on the document. This ‘training method violates best practice requirements the same way as using generic content as described above.
5. Failure to Conduct Routine Inspections
Health and safety legislation has a very clear mandate that employers must conduct routine workplace inspections to identify health and safety hazards, and then immediately correct those hazards.
The EA also require routine inspections and corrective actions to manage programs such as Storm Water, Hazardous Waste, and Spill Prevention Control etc.
Truth be told, my companies rarely conducted these inspections for a number of reasons, including not being aware of the requirements, not knowing how to identify (let alone correct) violations, and a lack of time and resources.
Many other small companies fail to meet these requirements for the same reasons.
Small companies fall prey to these issues due to a very common lack of critical internal expertise, as well as insufficient time and resources to keep up with environmental, health, and safety regulations.
This often leaves small companies in a perpetual state of non-compliance and, therefore, at risk for major liabilities including serious injuries, environmental damage, huge regulatory fines and penalties, lost money and customers, and even potential civil and criminal liabilities.
I’ve witnessed many small companies and people I’ve known during my career fall prey to just about all of these risks.
They’ve also been cited by HSE & EA, lost money to increased insurance premiums due to injuries, and lost many business opportunities, all due to making these common mistakes and failing to manage EHS compliance.
Hopefully this article will succeed in raising awareness of these common mistakes and help small business owners make better choices when it comes to managing health, safety and environmental compliance.
How can we help you?
If you’re in need of assistance with any aspect of health and safety compliance, here at Salus we’d be delighted to help.
Salus provides health and safety support for small businesses. Arrange a free consultation with one of Salus’ local consultants today.
For any queries or questions regarding our health & safety services please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us on 01978 801856 or e-mail one of our health & safety consultants on firstname.lastname@example.org